Excess weight isn’t easy to miss, so if a child is overweight you would assume that it’s something that would be easy for their parents to spot. However, when it comes to children, and especially to pre-teens and teens, figuring out when a few extra pounds is more than puberty related puppy fat or a picky eater’s refusal to eat three decent meals a day can be trickier than one might imagine until actually faced with the scenario.
Then there is how to approach the subject at all. Focusing in the wrong way on body size and weight can be psychologically damaging, but ignoring a potential problem can jeopardize a child’s long term health.
More frequently overweight children are developing health complications once reserved for adults – Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory issues – which are worrying to say the least. So just how should parents concerned about their child’s weight go about addressing the issue and tackling any problems? Here are some simple, actionable steps that should be kept in mind should you find yourself in this position.
Start with a Trip to the Doctor
Before ever discussing concerns about a potential weight problem with your child discuss them with their doctor first. It’s easy enough for parents to plug their children’s statistics into an online BMI calculator and begin making judgments from that but although it can be a useful guide BMI for kids is a hard to interpret thing as there can be so many variables involved that don’t really apply to adults.
At a doctor’s visit standards like BMI are likely to be taken into account as well, but can be put in context with you unique child’s stage of development, levels of physical activity and even factors like genetics to provide a clearer picture. The doctor can then help you formulate sensible dietary and exercise goals as well as advise on the potential of any self-esteem or depressive issues that may be affecting a child as well.
Kids are not mini adults and shouldn’t be treated as such when it comes to making diet and exercise changes. The kind of fad diets adults tend to gravitate to (which rarely work anyway) should never be foisted on children as the idea is to form healthy eating and exercise habits for life and not to just provide a quick fix.
Formulating a healthy diet for a child is tricky, which is why your doctor can be such a big help. Growing kids do have rather different nutritional needs to adults so these need to be taken into account. Many adults trying to lose weight remove entire food groups from their diet, a questionable idea for anyone and doing so for kids can actually endanger their health.
Make it a Family Affair
Many children considered to be overweight or obese have picked up bad eating habits from their environment. Even if a parent does not have a weight problem themselves their habit of letting their children get away with eating junk for the sake of convenience, or purely for the sake of a ‘quiet life’ can be far more damaging than they realize. Evidence shows that when a focus on healthier living is a family affair then the success rate all around is far higher, especially for children, and focusing a little more on everyone’s health, including your own, really can’t do any harm.
Choose Your Words with Care
Kids are sensitive creatures, even the very young ones, so rather than having a lengthy discussion about weight issues is often not the best idea. Instead, as you make changes to a child’s diet you may just want to go ahead and do it and if it is mentioned or questioned by the child emphasize the need for the whole family to get fitter rather than singling them out.
Make Exercise Fun to Make it Work
Increased physical exercise is just as important to weight management in children as diet changes are. Just as you can’t expect a child to follow a strict, boring adult diet you can’t expect that they are necessarily going to enjoy circuit training at a gym either (although some do).
But there are so many ways to get kids moving more that aren’t ‘boring’ and that you might enjoy – and benefit from – too. Walking, running or biking as a family can be a great way to spend the day and even shooting hoops in the backyard for an hour or so is a big help when trying to encourage a child to spend more time moving rather than sitting in front of their video game console.